Sunday, March 20, 2016

An Essay on Toynbee, And His Criticism of the Dehumanization of Technology

This is definitely another recommended read. People like Toynbee saw what was coming with the segmentation, and disconnection, of human life with rationalized industrialization. In effect, we went from the greatly connected, but poor material gains, of hunter gatherers, or agrarian collections of feudal monarchies, to the great material gains of the disconnected abstractions of industrialized life.   And along the way, as specialization took ascendancy, along with the commoditization of everything, there came the necessary corruption of communication, not only for efficiency's sake, but also to begin the means to market the new abundance of things. The things that had to be sold in order that people could keep the singular skill placements that allowed them on the treadmill in the first place.

It was in this process that we could close our eyes to not only the fate of others, but to the fragile linkages that kept the web of life interactive, and mutually supportive. You only needed to add the further abstraction of money, as skill translator, and thus initiator of unprecedented surges of human action, to give rise to the role of "the special interest;" those whose claim to power came not from royal blood, or the ballot box, but merely from the accumulations of abstracted value. Interests who could run amok through general human need, or through nature itself, as whatever whim to profit, or personal self aggrandizement, took hold of them.

Who could have foreseen, however, what electricity, when applied to silicon as tiny switches, or two magnetic states for the storage of information, would do to this world of industrialized commodity, and the human skill sets that formed one of the most basic of commodity items. Any more than what electrified networks of information transfer would do the segmented world view of isolated perceivers and actors; which is, of course, where Marshall McLuhan comes into the picture with hole new consideration of the effects of new extensions of our physical and mental capacities.

As such, we are now back to a mind set of "holistic thinking," but we are still stuck with an economic operating system that, inhuman even at its start, is now at odds with the environments this new technology has placed us in. Capitalistic Industrialization was a bad idea to begin with, but it did give us a great deal of material gain. One could argue that this gain was well worth the price paid. Not so easy to argue any further, however, that it remains viable. Not for our sanity. Not for the planet. And most especially for our renewed connection to each other.

Humanist among machines

As the dreams of Silicon Valley fill our world, could the dowdy historian Arnold Toynbee help prevent a nightmare?

by Ian Beacock